Ovalhouse Downstairs has been transformed into a mudstrewn jungle compound in which a ramshackle house sits waiting - with its inhabitants and its shrines and its memories - for the return of the man of the house. The Father – an idolised rebel leader - has long since gone on a dangerous mission but even in his absence he is the dominant figure in proceedings. While the family longs for his return, playing games in the safety and sanctity of the house, the arrival of a stranger brings the outside world to them and, with it, revolution itself.
Be Good Revolutionaries is presented as part of Ovalhouse's Outlaws season: "A collection of work which runs on unruly idealism and walks with the ghosts of childhood dreams." There is certainly unruly idealism as the family slavishly idolise their absent father, forever trying to contact him without leaving their house, and the loss of innocence precipitated by the arrival of a stranger in their midst is powerfully portrayed.
The rituals of a quasi-militaristic existence provide structure for the abandoned family, providing the mother with the tools with which to maintain order. Everything (dressing, eating, storytelling) is done by numbers from morning till night. The comedy of the piece is often at the expense of the underlying threat of terror, and the sense that everything is on a knife-edge, precipitously close to falling into horror. It is the arrival of The Stranger that tips that balance.
The evening hits peaks with set-pieces of great theatricality. The climactic ‘dance of love’ between Anna and The Stranger (or Jean as he is credited in the biographies) is as erotic as it is absurd, an animalistic dance punctuated by pauses for revolutionary slogans. Anne-Gaelle Thiriot's choreography brings passion and excitement to the piece throughout.
The programme tells us that the company has "improvised, written and constructed this piece together. Bricolage [developing the work by building brick upon brick]." This is very apparent in the feel of the production, which the actors inhabit with enormous commitment and ownership. The trust between the performers is palpable in this exemplary display of ensemble work.
Within this great company endeavour the family members are clearly delineated and five distinct characters are drawn with great clarity. To Anna - the Matriach who must hold her family together in the absence of the husband, lover, father - Juliet Prague brings steel and tyranny to her duties which stifle the children’s aspirations to individuality, until they are all confronted by the choices brought in from outside.
It is difficult to fault any aspect of production where everything works together in great harmony in the creation of the rebels' hideaway-house and its environs. Christopher Lawley's set design is enormously detailed in its randomness and is sensually and sensitively lit by Pablo Fernandez Baz.
Rebecca Thorn's live music - which she sings and plays with great beauty on a variety of instruments - hauntingly adds to the evocation of time, place and mood. It is an integral part of the production which only very occasionally detracts from or obscures the action. It lingers long in the memory.
But these excellent performances within a very strong production deserve a more consistent play. Georgina Sowerby and Jon Lee, co-directors for Dirty Market, have helped create a very strong production in one of the company’s rare forays into anything resembling a conventional theatre space (they list dilapidated churches and abattoirs amongst their more regular haunts). The method used to create this piece – the building of brick upon brick, bricolage – perhaps inevitably means that whilst the overall result will be strong there may be patches that are not as secure or well defined as others. Whilst you will greatly enjoy the production you may well, as I did, feel a little frustrated by that very patchiness and yearn for a little more consistency.
It’s absorbing, though, and the audience is transported to a very distinctive world which, whilst many thousands of miles away geographically, is very close to home as it encourages us to think about the need for the individual to take action.